The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Determining When Heaving-To Is Dangerous

Member Steve asked an interesting question (edited for brevity).

My question is simple: Why would you ever consider stopping being hove to?

In a John Kretschmer book he was discussing this very point and said, “when heaving to is no longer an option” (loosely remembered). When is that? He did not elaborate at all.

The Pardey’s bridle system, they claim, provides sufficient drag to create a sufficient slick to provide sufficient stoppage of most (all?) breaking waves.

Even Hal Roth in his book, Handling Storms, also completely omits any comment on why someone would stop being hove to.

When the seas get big enough? When the breaking waves become more often? When the slick isn’t enough?

That’s a really good question. The problem is that I don’t know the answer, at least not for sure, and further no one does, as you have discovered in your research.

There are four fundamental problems here that make it impossible to answer your question definitively:

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Good write up and videos on JSD deployment in the Southern Ocean:

Drew Frye

Not for multihulls. This is a general statement, based on only a few boats–I’m sure there are exceptions–so just consider the concepts.

The problem is three fold. First, a partial knock-down or severe heel, not uncommon when hove to in strong weather, is a capsize in a multihull. Second, the way cats avoid capsize when angling into the wind is by feathering, something you cannot do when hove to. Finally, most multihulls have a terrible, quick motion with the waves on the beam, even in moderate conditions. It’s just horrible when they are steep, impossible to stand and hard to hold on. But turn the stern to the waves and a glass of water will rest calmly on the salon table. It’s weird.

As a result, as soon as it is no longer safe to slowly jog into the wind under deep reefs, it’s time to deploy a drogue or sea anchor. Because they are lighter and ride very well to these, it should be an easy decision. The light weight and wide beam also makes them easier to deploy and recover. Thus, the transition should be accomplished well before it gets scary wild. Because you will due this in moderate storms, it doesn’t always need to be a JSD, but as John and many others have pointed out, it may be difficult to change tactics later, so be very mindful.

At least that has been my experience. No ballast = modified rules.

Drew Frye

To John, yes.

To RDE, below, exactly. Some of those scare me a little, but that’s true in all categories of boats. Not all boats should cross oceans, and that does NOT make them bad boats, so long as the skipper understands the design. They may be the very best tool for the job. I had a Stiletto 27 (27 x 13 x 1300 pounds) that was the ultimate day sailor in many ways; very fast, take it to the beach, but ride out a squall if need be. Not a sea boat by any stretch… but I’m thinking about getting one again some day.

My point is that the lack of ballast suggests different tactics. A multihull needs to use light weight and beam as an asset, not apologize for it, and the way to do that is by handling waves differently. Don’t try to do what the boat does not do well, but take advantage of what it does do well. This is seamanship. My last boat was 85% of the length, but only 15% of the weight and required quite different tactics. And yet, they are probably more similar to each other than to monohulls. A different way of thinking.


Hi Drew,
As you mentioned, not all multihulls are created equal.

There is the generic condomaran:
Heavy, with performance potential about the same as a monohull of the same length. Fixed long keels, low deck clearance, with sliding patio doors slightly above Home Depot grade to separate the cockpit from the boat interior.

Vs. a catamaran designed for ocean voyaging:
Overall beam at least 50% of the length. Narrow hull beam and entry angle to moderate pitching. Retractable daggerboards to enable the boat to adapt to beam-on waves rather than tripping on the keels, High bridge deck clearance. Stronger windows, and a watertight door system that will withstand a boarding sea.

Kind of like comparing a Boreal to a Beneteau Sense 50. And the tactics for surviving a storm will be as different as that of the boat designs.

Drew Frye

A personal (non) favorite of mine is the Gemini Legacy:

No bridge deck clearance (this is a demo boat with empty tanks, no gear, and no dingy on the davits), only 2′ transom, and no door sill. It has only one winch and and 7 jammers feeding it. The designer told me it was for a “different kind of sailor.” Oh dear.

It has replaced the Gemini 105Mc, which was a good coastal boat, given the value design compromises. The Legacy is a dock queen.

rene blei

Happy to say my really bad storm experience is limited, but the one time it did happen, while in an alloy monohull, the breakers came in from very different angles, no horizon and ofcourse that makes any survival tactic a bit of a challenge, but agree that a drogue is the best tactic to talk about it later.
Best to stay will clear of it, if possible, but forecasting weather is still a mystery, with too many variables that still is not understood, making it impossible to predict longer-term.

Trevor Robertson

My comment applies to moderate or heavy displacement monohulls – I have no experience with multihulls or light displacement monohulls in heavy weather.

I believe the protection afforded by the slick in the yacht’s lee while hove-to may be an illusion. The slick does exist and smooths the sea to a remarkable extent, but probably does little to moderate the rare large breaking waves that do the damage.

The effect of the slick is an illusion of scale. If the size of the breaking tops of the waves are about one metre (which is considerable), the slick apparently halves their height. In fact what it really does is reduce the height of all seas by half a metre. It certainly does not halve the height of all seas. The actual numbers will vary, but I think it unlikely that the slick in the lee of a small vessel (less than 20 metres or so) when hove-to ever reduces the wave height by much more than a metre – and a metre reduction in the height of the rare but dangerous big breaking sea does little to reduce the damage it does.

Another example of this illusion is the old one of spreading oil to calm waves. Tests by the RNLI in Britain about 50 years ago concluded that although oil has a remarkable calming effect on small waves, it has no appreciable effect on breaking waves that are large enough to be dangerous. I believe exactly the same applies to the slick a vessel produces when hove-to – both reduce the size of the small waves but not large breaking seas.

That is not to say that there is no point in trying to keep the vessel in the slick while hove-to. It is more comfortable than fore reaching ahead of the slick or drifting behind it. I have ridden out quite a few near gales and gales (force 7 and 8) comfortably hove-to in Iron Bark’s own slick. I remember one in the North Atlantic where the calming effect was sufficient for me to sit in the cockpit and watch the fulmars paddling in the slick, but we both had to jump for shelter from the odd bigger breaker.

With a bit of fiddling around, most boats can be induced to make a square drift and lie in their own slick – some will need some sort of a drag device off the bow, a few particularly lively or small vessels will need to add a spring line to the drogue to adjust the angle that they lie to the seas (the Pardy system). Some such as my Iron Bark will lie-to under deep-reefed mainsail alone or main and backed staysail and can be kept in the slick by adjusting the sheets and how far the helm is lashed down.

A vessel that can heave-to without drogues off the bow will find it easier to adjust things so she fore reaches a little or drifts slowly downwind, allowing it to avoid a danger to leeward (land, ice etc). This will of course be a more uncomfortable as the vessel will no longer be in the slick.

Like John, I do not know when it is no longer safe to heave-to even on my own boat, which I know well. I could not (and would not) try to give firm rules applicable to all vessels – that is way beyond my ability. I think that when in doubt, the safest option is probably to run off with some sort of drogue astern and it is better to do this too soon than too late – which of course is exactly John’s advice.



Does anyone know of a report where a vessel that has been heaved-to correctly (within its slick path) was capsized by a breaking wave?


I already digested the Pardley “bible” and it absolutely made me believe in their heave-to tactics. On the other hand I feel that using a JSD you’re more manoeverable and could still find your way out of a system, given you’re not in the wrong corner (NE quadrant in the northern hemisphere). Its not an easy decision, but I feel once hove-to you’re stuck with it as it might be impossible to get the boat moving again fast enough to avoid a dangerous situation.
What do you think – would Shanes’ boat have lived being ove-to? Obviously a third deployment of a JSD had helped.


And on the other hand John Kretschmer favorizes forward reaching to get out of the system, not deploying anything at all (currently reading his excellent book “Sailing a Serious Ocean”)


I met the Pardeys soon after they had made a 54 day crossing from Japan on their 24′ Serafin. Asked them what their secret for getting along together on such a long voyage on such a small boat. “Lot’s of box wine.”

A few years later I was out bay sailing with a group of people on an exact replica of their boat. A gust came through and the inexperienced person at the helm managed to put the spreaders in the water. A rather strange design, broad stern, narrow bow entry, huge bowsprit. I’ve all the admiration in the world for the seamanship of anyone who could complete the voyages they have in that kind of boat.

Richard Hudson

Hi John,

I think you’ve written an excellent analysis of the difficulties with determining when heaving-to is no longer safe, and developed very useful guidelines for making that decision.

Fifteen years ago, when I was much more impressed by claims of the safety of heaving-to, I rolled over while hove-to. It was a painful lesson.

Your experience of suddenly being hit hard by a breaking wave while hove-to ( ) sounds somewhat similar, but that you had a larger boat, weren’t near a suddenly shelving bottom contour, and you were able to observe the situation and figure out the problem in half an hour, whereas I had rolled over very soon after the first indication of a problem.

Hi Ernest,
I think my story above is one of a “vessel that has been heaved-to correctly (within its slick path)” that was capsized by a breaking wave. Except that when the wave hit, I was not on deck to be able to see that my boat was still hove-to in it’s slick. Before then, I had spent a lot of time on deck, confirming the boat was hove-to in it’s slick.



Good god, THATs a story. Thanks for sharing!

Geoff Sheridan

The links to Richards story on Orbit have disappeared.
I was able, with some difficulty, to find them using a search engine.
Technical notes:
Worth a read.

Richard Hudson

Hi John,

Thanks very much, I agree with all your points.

> Everything changes when a storm occurs in shallow water and that goes double if the contour shelves quickly

I thought a lot about this going into the storm–being near a place where the depth went from 1500m to 500m. I thought, is 500m shallow?, and is that change in depth steep? 500m seemed pretty deep…

Nowadays, if it’s forecast to be windy (say, Force 7 or more), I’m thinking about the possibility of big, steep waves if I see the bottom going from 3000m to 2000m. But those numbers are just a guess on my part (I haven’t actually spent a great deal of time in Force 7 and above, observing what happens in what depths).

We know that shallow water or steeply sloping bottoms can result in dangerous waves. But I still don’t know a good way of determining what is ‘shallow’, and what is a ‘steeply sloping bottom’. If you, or anyone else, has any good rules-of-thumb or formulas for determining what is ‘shallow’ or what is ‘steeply sloping’, I’d be interested to learn.



Hi Richard,
Thank you so much for sharing your painful story on Orbit, in particular your technical notes section: plenty of useful information and potential lessons/preparation tips for the rest of us in there. Really appreciate it.


Thanks John for your comment on wave directions.
In a force 8 everything still appears to be “orderly”, but that appears to change to chaotic as the storm intensified. When cocooned in a small space, your mind could well play tricks on you, but whatever it was, it sure got me praying. Maybe not unlike to that bad dude and slave trader by the name of John Newton, who prayed when caught in a bad storm and years later wrote ” Amazing Grace”. No, don’t panic, I’m not a poet 🙂


Thank you for a thought provoking article. I wondered if any of your readers have had any experience with or advice for us yawl owners in terms of sail configuration.


Hi John, thanks for your reply. Having had limited experience here, I nonetheless am inclined to agree with you re the mizzen. I am having an inner forestay put on my boat this spring so I can use a staysail. I see you have a roller furling one. I was not not conrtemplating that. Any other suggestions as this is being done would be greatly appreciated.

Rob Gill

Hi John,
In terms of “when”, for those of us yet to experience real heavy weather conditions offshore with possible breaking waves (and hope not to), any time with less than 4 hours of daylight left to balance the boat and sail plan, rig a bow drogue if needed and check we are staying within the slick would seem to be dangerous. Without daylight to make these adjustments the JSD would appear to be more prudent.
best regards

Richard Dykiel

Reading all these comments from experienced people the conclusion I’m drawing is: heave to, and then when conditions worsen, deploy JSD. I wouldn’t try the intermediate step of deploying anything from the bow when heaving to, because it would be irretrievable in worsening conditions.

Richard Dykiel

Yes but using the engine, and perhaps still need a trip to the bow? If your boat is equipped with a JSD what is the use of laying hove to under galerider or sea anchor? Avoid running into a lee shore?

Richard Dykiel

Pardon if there is a misunderstanding, but my question was about: if you started hove to (I agree it’s easier to get in and out), BUT the conditions worsen, is it worth trying step #2 (drogue off the bow) or better to go direct to step #3 (JSD). My conclusions were that step #2 was an unnecessary complication.


Just another question: when switching from heave-to to JSD running, would you
– start running first, and deploy the JSD when the boat is already moving, or
– first deploy the JSD over the staern while the boat is “parked”, and start running “intop the drogue” then?
I would favor the second method as there is less movement in the boat, no drag on the partially deployed droge which may prove helpful to avoid deployment problems, such as a line being tangled somewhere on deck, or around the wind vane (as it had almost happened to Shane)

Gavin Daniel


Tom and Deb Jarecki

An example of storm survival of a multihull is the Ramtha during the 1994 Queens Birthday Storm, but at that point she did not have any crew on board and effectively lay ahull. Not recommended, but shows that a lightweight boat can skid in front of a breaking wave rather than tripping and getting rolled. In our own experience of close reaching in medium sized breaking waves and 40 knots of wind we could feel the sideways acceleration whenever a larger breaking wave hit us and the wave strikes were muted.

We are on a 55 foot light weight cruising catamaran and we can sail relatively comfortably in rough conditions by slowing down. By the time the conditions are such that we can’t slow down enough by further reefing and active sailing the conditions will likely be bad enough that we would deploy our JSD and start thinking about survival. No intermediate step of heaving to needed.

Catamarans are fundamentally different from monohulls, both for being unballasted (as pointed out by one of the other commenters in one of these chapters) and for being relatively level and comfortable even in rough conditions (if you can slow down enough). An example is heaving to so as to be able to cook – common in monohulls and not necessary in a catamaran. Take a look at the La Vagabonde videos of their recent voyage across the Atlantic – not great comfort, but good enough that they could keep sailing.

Henrik Johnsen

The Norwegian sailor Are Wiig, a participant in the Golden Globe Race, was capsized last night when hove-to 400 Nm south of Cape Town.
Everything is ok with him, but his boat has got some serious damage. He was able to continue sailing under jury-rig though, and is now on his way to CT.
This was a boat one would think was ideal to hove-to with, since it got a long keel, but never the less he was capsized.
Based on the description of the damage on the boat it seams as he had a free fall from the top of the wave, so no question about the enormous conditions he was in. May be a series droge would have saved the situation here, but I guess he didn´t consider using a droge since he was racing, and it will take much longer to retrieve a droge, rather than sail away after been hove-to.
You can read Are´s story on the link from GGR:


Retrieval of JSD. Just thinking out loud here.
Would it make sense to attach a messenger line (3/8th ” Line) to the JSD-chain when tossed overboard? Then when ready to retrieve; pull it in backwards where the cones offer no resistance?? Gotta make sure things don’t get tangled, but should be do-able?The easier it is to retrieve, the earlier one would deploy; it’s a mental thing.


Please help me to understand the JSD technique. Are my thoughts correct below:
1. Take down all sails and point dead downwind
2. Set bridle and toss over the JSD
3. Center and lockdown the rudder
4. Disengage auto steering
5. Can leave this setting unattended, similar to heaving-to,,becoming passive at this stage. Go rest!
Is this the correct sequence?